"Have you considered getting counseling yet?" Hank asked, looking through a microscope. Jamie had been working with him for two days now, and Hank had stopped paying too much attention to the young man. Jamie seemed to know what he was doing.
"Bobby and I talked about it," Jamie answered. Out of the corner of his eye, Hank saw Jamie put something away, then carry something else to his workstation before sitting down. "If I were still in Washington, I could see Dr. Leonard. X-Factor all had to see him whenever we went on a mission the government deemed 'harmful.'"
Hank nodded, but never took his eyes off the moving strand of Legacy in the slide. "If you'd like, I'd be more than willing to help," he said.
Jamie sighed. "No. I have to live with you--I really don't want to do counseling with you, too. I mean, I like you and all but--"
Hank didn't move away from the microscope as he held up a hand, smiling. "I understand. I can recommend some other doctors, if you'd like. Several of them far better at psychology than I am."
Out of the corner of his eye, Hank saw Jamie shake his head. "I don't really want to start telling a complete stranger about my entire life," he muttered unhappily.
Hank blinked. Then he looked up, sitting back in his chair and gazing steadily at Jamie, who was scribbling something on a notepad as he flipped through files. After a moment Jamie paused and eyed Hank.
"You don't want to go to me," Hank said slowly, trying to make sure he said this correctly, "because you know me too well. You don't want to go to someone else, because you don't know them."
Jamie laughed, self-depreciating. "Yeah, well..."
Hank folded his arms across his chest. "Jamie, you obviously don't want counseling. Your stalling tactics are admirable. Why are you saying you'll get it if you aren't really going to?"
Jamie was squirming. "Bobby really, really wants me to," he muttered finally.
Hank nodded once, and looked back at his microscope. "It's not going to help you if you aren't willing. Are you willing?"
Jamie was quiet for a long while. Finally, he spoke in an undertone. "Not really."
Hank nodded once, still looking down. "I'll talk to Bobby, if you'd like. But I also think you might consider counseling."
Jamie sighed heavily. "But it's silly. I mean, I don't feel bad *now.*"
"And you won't until something else happens, and suddenly you're depressed again. Wouldn't it be better to keep that from happening?"
Jamie muttered something that Hank couldn't hear.
Hank sighed and shook his head. It was obvious Jamie wasn't convinced, and there wasn't anything he could do about it.
Instead, he stood and retrieved the results of the last test on Jamie. By this time they should know if the young man had Legacy or not.
Jean took one look at the forlorn figure slouched in the kitchen chair and headed wordlessly for the freezer. Out came the brown and white container of rocky road ice cream, and then a mug floated toward her from the cupboards. Silently, Jean scooped the ice cream into the mug, added a spoon, and sat down in the chair opposite from the man slouched there.
Jean pushed the mug across until Bobby's blue eyes had no choice but to see it. She rested her hand on the table, and her chin on that, and watched him.
A small smile flickered across Bobby's face, and he sat up slightly to pull the ice cream closer. "Thanks, Jean," he said.
"You're welcome," Jean answered. "What's wrong?"
Bobby ate some ice cream thoughtfully, carefully licking off the spoon before dipping it back in. "I haven't said more than three words to Jamie in the last three days," he sighed at last. "I'm on a mission, or he's busy with Hank, or one of us is sleeping. I thought I'd be able to see him more if he lived here, Jean, and it's not working out that way at all."
Jean frowned sympathetically. Bobby had never been one to take hardships easily, though he didn't tend to dwell on them once they were solved. Luckily, he was also willing to talk--as long as someone else made the first move. Obviously, though, in the Bobby/Jamie crisis, that wasn't going to be Jamie.
"Have you tried talking to him?" she asked.
Bobby nodded and continued to mush his ice cream. Slowly, he ate what was sticking to the spoon and then kept mushing. "He doesn't have Legacy. He and Hank are trying to figure out why his powers are going all funky." Bobby sighed and sat the ice cream down. "I'm worried about him. He tends to get depressed, and I think he was getting depressed, but... we don't talk anymore."
Jean smiled, but kept it small. She remembered her first tentative relationship with Scott, when three days where they were both too busy to do much seemed like an eternity. "Why don't you make it a point to go find him? You know where he is."
Bobby nodded glumly. "I don't want to interrupt anything important, though. I mean, even if Jamie's not doing anything important at the moment, Hank might be. I don't want to bug Hank."
Jean reached out and covered Bobby's hand with her own, catching his gaze. "When he was in Washington you made it a point to call him, and you kept in touch through e-mail. You even set aside time to fly up there. You set dates--you had dates. Now, though, you're both going all over the place. Neither of you is making time for the other. Even though you're living in the same house, it's easier if you keep treating this like a relationship where you have to court him."
Bobby looked away, his nod of agreement accompanied by a forlorn sigh.
"Who's courting who?" Warren asked, walking in and pulling a banana out of the fruit bowl on the sink. He returned to the table and swiveled a chair around, sitting down with his wings draped down the front while he leaned on the back.
"My love life sucks," Bobby muttered unhappily.
Jean smiled softly at Bobby, then filled Warren in telepathically.
"Oh," Warren said, frowning thoughtfully as he chewed. "Invite him out on a date. You have to keep treating it like you aren't living in the same house--like Jean said. When Betsy and I were dating, we had to keep treating each other specially. You don't just quit because you're in the same place."
Bobby sighed. "It's not just that," he said after a moment. "Jamie's dupes... they're supposed to be different aspects of him, and this one was saying how it's wrong to be gay, and I'm older than he is... What if he's avoiding me because he doesn't like me after all?"
Jean tightened her hand around Bobby's fingers, felt him let his fingers curl in response around hers.
"That's something you're only going to be able to find out if you talk to him, Bobby," Warren said softly.
Bobby nodded slightly, though he didn't otherwise answer.
"And as for this 'important stuff' Hank and Jamie might be doing," Jean said, standing, "I think it's about time I got those two out of that lab! I'll find out when there's not going to be 'important stuff' and arrange a mandatory picnic."
Bobby chuckled, sitting back in his chair. Warren grinned and aimed carefully before tossing his banana peel into the trash.
"Jamie said he can barbecue--that'll be his job, and then we know for sure he'll be there. And Hank's great at making salads, so we'll put him in charge of that so he shows up." Jean grinned impishly, glad to see Bobby smile in return. "Now all I have to do is figure out when they aren't doing 'important stuff'..."
Hank barely glanced up as Jean entered the room, a tray of food balanced telekinetically in the air.
"Have either of you boys eaten?" she asked, striding into the lab with an air of big-sister-authority.
"Thank you, Jeannie, I had forgotten," Hank murmured, then turned and smiled brilliantly at her before reaching for a sandwich.
"That's okay," Jean said, smiling back as she handed another sandwich to one of Jamie's dupes. "Anything important you guys found?"
Hank sighed and turned back to his reports. "Nothing, I'm afraid. Things are at a stand-still until Sunday, when Moira can get some results back to me from Muir."
"You can't do anything about it tomorrow?" Jean asked, leaning against the countertop.
Hank had already tuned her out, and had to blink several times before he realized she was still asking questions. Then he realized what questions she was asking. And realized she was probably about to tear him away from his precious lab. Just as he was about to make something up to do tomorrow, Jamie answered.
"No, there's not much we can do about anything tomorrow," the young man sighed. "Not even the--"
"But I'm sure I'll find something to do," Hank interrupted quickly. Already, he could tell from the gleam in Jean's eyes that it was too late.
"Nope!" she declared, smiling triumphantly. "Tomorrow we're having a picnic! Jamie, you're in charge of grilling. I'm buying hotdogs, steaks and burgers. Hank, you're in charge of salads. Betsy asked for something with a lot of fruit, but no pineapple, and Ororo requested something she could fill up on--maybe that salad with the fetta cheese you make so well?--and Scott begged for taco salad."
Hank couldn't bring himself to be irritated as Jean smiled becomingly at him. He sighed, instead. "As you wish, fair maiden! My youthful doppleganger-maker and I shall adjourn to the upper levels to create you a masterpiece for the palate!"
Jean laughed and kissed his forehead, then whisked herself away up the stairs.
Hank shook his head in amusement and went back to his work. Ambushed. By the fiery haired maiden.
"I need tongs," Jamie said to himself. The dupe raced off in search of tongs.
Bobby grinned and moved closer to where Jamie was standing by the open grill, a variety of hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks and ribs currently roasting. Another Jamie stood nearby, anxiously holding a plate to put the cooked meat on.
"Where'd you learn to grill?" Bobby asked, drinking soda. The breeze was cool, undoubtedly Ororo's doing. In the background, Bobby could hear Jean and Remy splashing around in the pool.
"After my parents died, the electricity was cut 'cause I didn't know I was supposed to pay the bills," Jamie said, grinning slightly. "So I learned to cook using the barbecue and normal ol' fire."
"Here is thy requested fruit salad, oh beauteous violet tressed damsel!" Hank cried, bursting through the back doors with two salad bowls--one in each arm. Betsy smiled and hurried to fetch one, putting it on the large picnic table. Hank went back inside to finish another salad.
"Are you flirting with my girlfriend, Hank?" Warren called, walking up in blue skin and Speedoes to where Betsy stood.
Jamie glanced up, then back down at his grill.
Bobby glanced at Warren, too. Tall, slender, graceful, at ease with his own body and those angel-wings, he was truly beautiful.
Bobby scowled and looked at himself, in green swim trunks. Shorter, stockier, not nearly as graceful. And no wings; a definite drawback. The best he could say about himself was that he was 'cute.'
Blue eyes looked back up at Jamie, wearing black swimming trunks and a blue tank top. "Want to go swimming when you're done here?" Bobby asked cheerfully.
Jamie glanced around, obviously looking at the other X-Men present, then smiled and shook his head. "Nah. I'd rather stay dressed."
Bobby chuckled and drank more soda. He glanced around until he saw Logan, who wore a black T-shirt instead of his flannel and had taken off his shoes, but still wore jeans. "I like you better not dressed," Bobby said slyly, watching Jamie blush. "You look waaaay better than Logan."
As if he'd heard--and who was to say he hadn't?--Logan glanced up and grinned.
"I don't know," Jamie said to the grill, "he's pretty--" Jamie looked up suddenly, face red, and his gaze shot toward where Logan was sitting next to the far end of the pool, talking to Jean, who was in the water.
"I think I need to go inside for a sec," Jamie muttered, obviously mortified, then handed his spatula to a nearby dupe and raced for the doorway.
Bobby hurried after him. "Hey! James!" he called, catching up just past the kitchen. He started laughing as Jamie slumped against the wall, face buried in his hands.
"I can't believe I'm looking at Logan," Jamie muttered between his fingers. "I can't believe I'm looking at any of these guys!"
Bobby's smile faltered. "Even me?" he asked oh-so-lightly.
Jamie looked up, surprise written on his face. "No, of course not. I can look at you--I'm dating you." He grinned impishly, and his eyes sparkled. "I'm living with you."
Bobby chuckled. "We should go swimming," he said again, smiling.
Jamie shook his head and looked embarrassed. "I don't think so."
"Why not?" Bobby argued. "It would be fun!"
Jamie chuckled slightly, and shook his head again. "Nah. I mean these guys, they--they all look--well, they're... but I don't look like that. I definitely haven't battled all my life, and I don't have those muscles."
Bobby frowned. Then smiled again, and put his hands on Jamie's waist. "Lemme check," he murmured in mock-concentration. "Um hm. Hmmmm. Ah! There," he said, hands smoothing over Jamie's torso in a mock-search for muscles.
Jamie was trying not to grin, biting his lip even as dimples formed in spite of his best efforts.
"I feel muscles beneath this shirt," Bobby murmured, stepping closer to Jamie and pinning him against the wall. His hands continued roaming. "Oh, yeah. There's a muscle. And there's one. Oh! Right there, I feel that one..."
Jamie drew in a shaky breath and grinned, eyes flickering around. "Bobby," he muttered. "There are people all over."
"They're all outside. And they wouldn't care anyway."
"Bobby!" Jamie laughed, and pushed.
Bobby sighed mournfully and stepped away, eyes gleaming. "Okay. But we should go swimming."
Jamie laughed and shook his head. "Probably not. I may have those little muscles you found, but I still don't hold a candle to Warren or Remy or even Sam!"
Bobby made himself look suspicious. "You've been checking them out, huh?"
Jamie laughed and blushed again.
"Besides, I don't hold a candle to them either!"
Jamie leveled a clearly disbelieving gaze at Bobby.
Bobby grinned with the implied compliment, then shook his head. "Really. But I go swimming anyway. The trick, you see, is to remember that they're all dating people who don't look half as good as the person you're dating."
"You think you look that good, huh?" Jamie said, a teasing twinkle in his brown eyes.
"I think you look that good," Bobby countered, and winked. "Now let's go back out before the food burns!"
"My dupe's got it!" Jamie laughed, and hurried out in front of Bobby.
Jamie took the barbecue sauce from himself, poured it on the ribs, then handed it back to himself. His dupe hurried to put it away for him.
Jamie closed the grill's lid with a clang, then looked up. Hank, done with the salads, was in the pool with Warren and Bobby. Warren was floating, laying on his stomach on a raft, while Bobby and Hank swam around him singing the "Jaws" theme song and holding their hands like fins over their heads. Warren was cursing at them, throwing all sort of interesting (and often anatomically impossible) threats at them if they dared to overturn his float.
There was a screech, and a splash, and then Bobby and Hank were both swimming as fast as they could for the edge of the pool while Warren emerged from the water, sputtering and furious, his wings flapping uselessly and spraying sheets of water all about.
To one side Jean and Logan sat at a table together, laughing over the pool escapades. Rogue and Remy sat nearby; Rogue in a lounge chair, Remy by her side and whispering something that was making her look at him, one eyebrow raised archly.
Betsy sunbathed, wearing a one-piece filled with cutouts. Sam and Scott were playing two-man volleyball in the grass nearby, without a net. They had decided it was too much of a pain to put it up after Ororo and Remy had managed to tangle it--and how two supposedly deft thieves had managed to tangle the net was still under debate. Ororo sat nearby in a lawn chair, reading.
Jamie smiled and wished he felt more a part of things. After several days here, he still didn't feel any closer to anyone except Hank. This wasn't his family, as much as he wished they were, and he felt like an outsider looking in.
Which, in turn, made him depressed.
Which isolated him.
Which made him feel like an outsider, looking in.
It was a vicious cycle.
"Almost done with those ribs?" Warren called, walking over with a beer in hand and smiling cheerfully, albeit wetly. Behind him, Bobby and Hank were threatening to splash Jean, even though she wasn't in the pool.
Jamie smiled brightly, even though it was fake, and nodded. "One more minute," he said, glancing down at his watch more out of habit than need.
"They smell great," Warren sighed wistfully, and Ororo chuckled at him.
"I'm not promising greatness," Jamie said with a grin, "but they ought to at least be decent."
A dupe hurried up with a plate, and Jamie opened the grill and put the ribs on the platter. The dupe raced over and put the platter on the table, and Warren walked over and got some food.
"Land shark!" Bobby shouted, and Jamie glanced up in time to see Bobby leaping out of the water and charging toward Jean.
Jean flicked her wrist at him, but otherwise ignored him completely. Bobby, however, was tossed through the air and back into the pool. He swam for a moment, then circled around to the side Jamie was nearest and resurfaced.
"All done, Jamie?" Bobby called, hanging onto the pool side.
"Yeah," Jamie called back, and smiled fondly at the wet man.
"Come in the water!" Bobby shouted back gleefully, clapping his hands on the tile and cement edge.
Jamie laughed and shook his head. "No!"
"Plleeeeaaaase?" Bobby hung on the side of the pool and looked pitiful.
Jamie smiled at him and shook his head. Twenty-six Bobby might be, but, Lord, he didn't act it. Which was a relief. It did seem like quite an age-gap, but as long as Bobby didn't seem to mind... but then, Jamie hadn't seen him very much in the past few days. Maybe he did mind. Maybe he was tired of dealing with someone six years younger. Maybe he'd come to his senses and realized that--
Droplets of water splashed his legs, pulling his mind out of those thoughts. Jamie looked over to see Bobby grinning wickedly.
"No!" Jamie laughed.
"C'mon, handsome," Bobby said, eyes twinkling.
Jamie felt himself blush, but couldn't stop it. He glanced at Jean, who had laughed, then glared at the grill.
"Logan! How do you say "handsome" in... um... any other language?" Bobby chirped.
"Joli," Logan suggested in a gruff voice.
Gambit snorted, and said the word again--with a better accent. "It's French," the Cajun said, giving Logan a dirty look, "an' y' manglin' it."
"Come in the water, joli," Bobby said, smiling happily and not caring that he mangled the word.
Jamie laughed and shook his head, eyeing the other figures relaxing around the pool. The women were gorgeous, and the men were... well, hell, they could all be Mr. Universe. Jamie wasn't anywhere near that toned. And he still had babyfat. And his arms and legs were still too long. And while it was one thing to go swimming in front of Guido and Lorna and Alex and the others--people he considered his family--it was quite something else to do it in front of the X-Men. It wasn't even really that they weren't nice to him, it was just that... that... he wasn't part of their family, and he felt it keenly.
Moreso, he realized suddenly, since he hadn't been around Bobby as much.
Bobby lurched out of the pool, wet feet slapping against sun-warmed concrete, then silencing as he entered the grass. He stopped a foot from Jamie, and glared at the grill. "You're done cooking," he said, almost accusingly.
"Wanna go swimming?"
Jamie shook his head.
Bobby sighed, then perked up. "Wanna play volleyball?"
Jamie grinned and shut the grill, setting down his spatula and tongs. "With or without a net?" he asked brightly.
"With. If we can get it untangled," Bobby grumbled, pinning Ororo--who ignored him--with a stern look. Somehow, since he was still half-smiling, it wasn't very fierce.
Bobby craned his head, trying to peer at his shoulders where Jean had pointed. Sure enough, his skin was flushed pink. "I wore sunscreen," he complained, returning to stacking the dishes in the sink.
"Did you replace it after you went swimming?" Jean asked in her best imperious-big-sister voice.
"No," Bobby mumbled. He looked up, searching for Jamie. The younger man was still sprawled in the grass, sleeping soundly under the shade of a tree. "He's nice, isn't he?" Bobby murmured softly, a smile playing around the edges of his mouth.
Jean followed his gaze, and smiled herself. "Yes," she said, "he is. Did you and he get to talk a little bit more today?"
Bobby nodded. "Things are mostly better again--almost like they were before. Just spending time together seemed to help."
"Told'j'so," Warren said, smugly, from where he was loading the dishes into the dishwasher.
Bobby stuck his tongue out at the winged man, who returned the very mature gesture. Jean mentally thunked them both.
"We're going out to the dinner and movie tomorrow night," Bobby said, smiling. "I'm gonna see if I can't convince him to spend less time with Hank and more time with me. He spends all day with Hank, and I don't ever see him." Bobby sighed and grinned slightly. "I never thought I'd be jealous of my best friend."
Jean laughed, and kissed the back of his head. "That's why we love you, Bobby."
"Because I never thought I'd be jealous of Hank?" he asked, befuddled.
Jean stopped, and frowned. "I think my meaning got confused," she said, and continued outside to pick up more trash. She came back in a moment later, dumping several more forks in the sink. "You'd better go wake him up," she said, motioning toward Jamie. "He's been asleep ever since you guys had that game of volleyball. He might get sunburned, and he might never be able to sleep tonight."
Bobby nodded and dried his hands off on a dishtowel, then padded out the back door and across the lawn, skirting the pool until he came to the large cottonwood tree Jamie was sleeping under. Bobby smiled softly, and knelt down next to the other man. He looked so calm, so peaceful. An ant tried to crawl across his cheek, and Bobby brushed it off softly.
He grinned, bent down further until he could reach Jamie easily, and then kissed the sleeping form.
Bobby frowned when Jamie kept sleeping. Fine. Then he would just have to apply himself more aggressively. He bent down again and kissed Jamie, touched the corners of the younger man's mouth with his tongue, and felt Jamie respond sleepily, murmuring something and kissing back.
Bobby smiled, but didn't move away, and slid his hand up under Jamie's black T-shirt, feeling the warm skin beneath.
That got more of a reaction. Jamie was definitely awake.
A hand slid up Bobby's arm to his shoulder, following that line down his neck and pulling him closer. Jamie nearly moaned.
Bobby grinned and pulled back slightly. "Wake up," he whispered.
Jamie's eyes instantly closed tighter and he removed his hand, letting it drop across his eyes to block out the sun. He mumbled something, trying to pretend like he was still sleeping.
Bobby laughed, a chuckle low in his throat. His hand, still under Jamie's shirt, moved softly, grazing against the heated skin. He felt Jamie shiver, and moved around to touch his ribs. "Wake uuuuuuup," Bobby crooned. He let his hand slip lower, noting the twitch of Jamie's lips. "C'mon. You know you want to be awake."
Jamie resolutely pretended to sleep.
Bobby let his hand drift across Jamie's stomach, feeling the small variations as muscles twitched. The skin there was warm, and mostly smooth--Jamie wasn't very hairy at all. There were slight ripples--stomach muscles, shivering in a clenching, spasmodic motion that would have been a flinch if it carried fear. Instead, it was more of an instinctive withdrawl from tickling fingers.
Bobby pounced, just as Jamie sat up already squirming.
"Tickletickle!" Bobby grinned, fingers dancing across that overly sensitive abdomen.
"Stopitstopitstopit!" Jamie laughed, slapping at Bobby and squirming in just such a way that drove Bobby mad. Even if Jamie didn't realize he was doing it. Dimples flashed, eyes sparkled and hair flew. Jamie's back arched as he fought to get away from those persistent fingers, and Bobby's mouth went dry.
He stopped, plastered a smile on his face, and watched as Jamie lay back against the tree, laughing and panting.
Dear Lord. It was going to be hard to move in a moment, if he watched much more of this. And yet he couldn't seem to take his gaze away. "You're beautiful," he said softly, smiling happily.
Jamie blushed and ducked his head. "Remy's way more beautiful than I am," he said after a moment.
"Yeah, but he's an asshole," Bobby countered easily. After all, Remy was an asshole. Just look at what he was doing to Rogue.
"Warren's more beautiful than I am, too," Jamie responded.
"Warren's moody. And he doesn't have dimples."
Jamie blushed and picked at grass blades. "Scott--"
"Isn't you." Bobby reached out, unable to resist, and brushed his knuckles across Jamie's jaw. "You've got these beautiful eyes... they tell me whatever you're feeling. I've never met anyone with eyes that show right down to their soul, but yours do. And you've got those freckles that are almost hidden beneath your tan, but manage to peek out. And God, don't even get me started on your dimples."
Jamie laughed and blushed harder, refusing to look up. Finally, skittish eyes darted upward, then away, then back to Bobby. "...Really?" he asked hesitantly.
Bobby grinned and leaned closer, kissing Jamie again, very softly. "Yeah," he murmured against the other man.
Jamie smiled and ducked away shyly.